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RPS insights: planning for community engagement success in NSW

RPS insights: planning for community engagement success in NSW

    In March 2018, the NSW Government introduced key amendments to the Environmental Planning and Assessment (EP&A) Act 1979.


    With Community Participation Plans now forming a mandatory component of the planning and development assessment process, we asked RPS’ Communications and Community Engagement specialist Leanne Copping what the changes will mean for development planning in NSW and her top five tips for preparing a great Community Participation Plan.

    Why has NSW introduced Community Participation Plans and whose responsibility is it to develop them?

    "NSW has introduced Community Participation Plans as a strategy to empower the public to have its say on the projects that shape communities and cities across NSW. The plans also aim to help improve confidence in planning decisions and increase public participation in the planning process,” Leanne explains.

    “All planning authorities that operate under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act) will need to prepare these plans as a way of demonstrating how they engage the community in plan-making and development decisions.
    “The requirement for community participation plans applies to all councils in NSW as well as agencies recognised as planning authorities under Part 5 of the Act such as the Department of Planning and Environment, Greater Sydney Commission, Independent Planning Commission (formerly known as the Planning Assessment Commission) and regional and local planning panels.”

    What does a community engagement plan include? What’s the intent?

    “The EP&A Act puts forward a set of eight core community engagement principles that Community Participation Plans must demonstrate a commitment to. 

    “These principles include things like making sure planning information is provided in easy-to-understand language and that community participation actively seeks views that are representative of the whole community.

    “Another important inclusion is the provisions that they need to make for community members who may be affected by a proposed major development to be consulted before an application for planning approval is made.

    “While it’s acknowledged that it can be challenging to meaningfully engage with the community in the very early stages of planning for major development, the intent is that early engagement is embraced as an opportunity to better align development objectives with the needs and aspirations of the community.”

    What should planning authorities think about when preparing Community Participation Plans?

    “While there are plenty of examples of engagement done well in NSW, making community engagement planning a mandatory requirement will certainly represent some changes to the way development planning and assessment is done. Based on our experience, here are the 'top five' things councils and planning authorities should consider when developing their plans.”

    1. Give evidence 

    "It’s important to demonstrate how you have taken the community participation principles into account and back it up with hard and irrefutable evidence. For example, have you prepared a community profile to demonstrate that you understand who lives, works and visits in your community and responded with an engagement plan that is inclusive to all?"

    2. Keep it plain and simple

    "Information about planning is often presented in a really complex way that makes it difficult for people to understand. Upskill your planning team and other professionals in plain English writing and think about including simple statements at the start of all technical planning documents that helps the community to make sense of complex information and assists people to navigate planning systems and processes.

    3. Invest in information and feedback systems

    One of the biggest barriers to community engagement in planning is the systems used to manage and communicate information and feedback about development decisions. Strategic investment in systems and processes for recording, categorising and analysing the submissions and feedback you receive on planning matters can really help demonstrate how you are taking community feedback into account.

    4. Take inspiration for your own success stories

    Every organisation has examples of engagement done well, so take the time to identify these successes, analyse what went well and use these examples as case studies for best practice and continual improvement of your engagement plan and process.

    5. Engage with decision-makers and communities to encourage ownership of the plan

    Engage decision-makers in your organisation, as well communities or community representatives, in the preparation of the Plan to ensure organisational ownership of the Plan and alignment with community values.

    Talk to our community engagement and planning experts:

    Leanne Copping
    Senior Executive -Communications
    (02) 9248 9800

    Rachel Fox
    Discipline Leader – Stakeholder & Community Engagement


    22 June 2018